House Detectives

For you lucky individuals who have the privilege of owning an older home a new adventure in detective work is waiting for you.   Have you ever wondered who lived there before you?  Who built the house or even Why?

A few months ago, Dame Lisa blogged about her 90 year old house .

I thought it might be nice to give you some hints on HOW to find the history of your house!

As you do with ancestor research you do with house research.  Start with a research plan listing the documents you would like to find along with possible sources.

My plan would look like this:

House Address

Date & Location Information from Records Thoughts & To-Dos
[what was found]


[name of source]

 Talk to neighbors.  Some of the old timers may have knowledge of your house history
Inspect house and make notes of the findings
 Visit City Hall (court house) for deeds/appraisals/ building permits
 Visit Public Library. City directories and phone books



Just like any research, start with what you have on hand – your house.  Take pictures, investigate attics and crawl spaces.  Research the style. Does it fit the time period the house was built in or did the architect build something new and different.

Next step is to go find the ‘official’ documents.  You’ll want building plot maps, plans/permits, chain of ownership.  If you can find or order a new copy of the property’s abstract you’ve hit a gold mine.  The abstract will give building history, owner history, assessed price and taxes, all in one sweet document!

Make a time line of you home and see if you can fill in the names of previous owners.  You can use your public library or Historic Society to trace the owners using city directories or old newspapers.

I won’t go over every step or list every resource.  There are plenty of excellent bloggers out there that can take you step by step on how to research your old house.  I do want to peak your interest in hope that you will go off on an adventure to discover your house, neighborhood and community history.  Who knows, perhaps you will find an exciting skeleton in that back bedroom closet!


Some excellent sources on how to be a House Detective:

There is an excellent blog on House History by The Old House Guy,

Cyndi’s List has several resources on

From a DIY point of view theres

Another good site is

And my last gem –


Dame Sheila

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